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Via Says $100 Android Tablets Will Challenge the IPad This Year

Via Technologies Inc., the Taiwanese computer-processor company, expects $100 tablet devices containing its chips to reach the U.S. in the second half of 2010, offering a cheaper alternative to the iPad.

About five different models, ranging in price from $100 to $150, will be available, Richard Brown, vice president of marketing at Via, said in an interview. The new computers, made by the company’s Chinese customers, will run Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Via-powered machines are joining the flood of competitors to the iPad, which Apple Inc. introduced last month. Apple sold a million of the devices in their first month on sale, showing that consumers may be ready to accept tablets after years of shunning them. Apple’s iPhone already competes with Android in the market for smartphones, with the Google software running devices from HTC Corp. and Motorola Inc.

“The tablet market has been legitimated by Apple,” Brown said. “Android is bringing a lot of diversity to the market. There are different sizes and different looks and feels.”

The popularity of the iPad, which starts at $499, will spur a sixfold increase in industrywide shipments of tablet computers by 2014, according to research firm IDC. Worldwide shipments will rise to 46 million from 7.6 million this year, Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC said last week. It expects a total of 398 million portable personal computers to ship in 2014.

Apple’s iPad runs on chips made with technology from ARM Holdings Plc, a type of processor that dominates in mobile phones that power Android devices and Apple’s iPhone.

Brown said Via is offering an ARM-based semiconductor for the new tablets. The company also holds a license from Intel Corp. to make chips that work on X86 technology, the standard used in most of the world’s personal-computer processors.

“Android is a free, open-source mobile platform,” Google spokeswoman Kasia Chmielinski said in an e-mail. She declined to comment on product announcements.

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